Environmental planning at provincial level in Macuata

Communities, government departments, NGOs and the private sector came together on 22-24 August in a significant step towards a natural resource management plan for Macuata province.

Hosted by Macuata Provincial Office with support from WWF, the planning workshop took place at the Civic Centre in the provincial town of Labasa in the north of Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island. Macuata is one of 14 provinces and contains some of Fiji’s most intact ecosystems (from Welewara to Udu Point in the north-west) as well as some the most degraded (Qawa river catchment and around Wainikoro). Macuata’s customary fishing grounds include part of the Great Sea Reef, the third largest coral reef ecosystem in the world.

Stakeholders explored a wide range of issues; establishing a vision, identifying priority areas and drafting a structure for natural resource management. They outlined a key role for the Provincial Office, district environment committees and traditional leaders to link community, district (tikina) and provincial activities. They formed management recommendations for the Great Sea Reef (initially to undertake research and establish a network of marine protected areas, MPAs) and mapped out a wide range of existing and proposed priority areas for conservation.

Stakeholders mapping conservation areas during the workshop

Presentations on national and provincial strategies highlighted economic development plans emerging from the government’s Look North Policy, such as Bauxite mining at Dreketi and a new international port in next few years. The stream of trucks taking cane through town to the mill each night reminded us that sugar has shaped the local landscape and economy. During the workshop ANZ bank announced a $120million loan to Fiji Sugar Corporation. As that industry redefines itself, it was particularly good to see its representatives involved in discussions on how Macuata’s ecosystems can be sustainably managed for future generations.

Deputy Permanent Secretary for i-Taukei Affairs Colonel Apakuki Kurusiga, participating in the workshop, noted that “Macuata is the first province to start management planning on this scale, setting a great example for other provinces to ensure that provincial development and sustainability go hand in hand”. With that in mind, the Macuata process provides valuable lessons for upscaling natural resource managment planning in Fiji. We hope these can be applied in other provinces, and particularly towards WCS Fiji’s forthcoming involvement in Integrated Coastal Management planning in the neighbouring province of Bua.

More eggs, more fish!

Dancers hit the streets of Fiji last week, as Suva’s Hibiscus Festival saw Fiji’s largest ever Flash Mob! The mass boogie to the Bee Gees – “Stayin’ Alive” of course – was organised to draw attention to the plight of groupers – an easy and valuable target for fishermen when the fish meet to spawn in large aggregations in Fiji waters.

Watch the video of the dancers in action below! And yes, that is our Director Dr Stacy Jupiter in the front row…

The Flash Mob follows the launch of the National Spawning Aggregations Campaign, a partnership between WCS Fiji, SeaWeb, the Department of Fisheries and other organisations in the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Areas (FLMMA) Network. The ultimate goal of the campaign is to ensure that the fishery can continue to support communities and commerce in Fiji for the long-term. You can find out more in this Fiji Times article: http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=210447.

This project was kindly supported with a grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Plunging into Fiji’s rivers

Stretching between Mt Navotuvotu in the west, past Mt Kasi and towards Mt Sorolevu are large tracts of native forest. Beneath these canopies run crystal clear rivers and streams with abundant fish and invertebrate life. I led a small team to explore previously un-surveyed rivers and record the biodiversity found there. The team of 2 Fisheries Officers, aquatic ecology consultant Aaron Jenkins and I (WCS Fiji’s Freshwater Specialist) left Viti Levu by boat before the sun came up on 30th July, bound for the port of Nabouwalu at the southern tip of Fiji’s second largest island, Vanua Levu.

The team arrived in Nabouwalu and headed straight to Nakawaga village, part of the province of Cakaudrove. After presenting our i sevusevu to the village elders we were given the thumbs-up to undertake our biological assessments of the river fauna beside their village. The villagers assured us that we would find lot of life there, since the river had been protected for the last 10 years. After 4 hours surveying the river we had to conclude that this was not a healthy site: the impacts of upstream activities were really being felt, even in this protected stretch of river. Over a bowl or 2 of kava that evening, we reassured the village that it is still an excellent idea to have protected area in place, but if the communities cannot control upstream activities, then it would be wise to shift the protected area to somewhere they can restrict the surrounding activities.

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

The second site surveyed was the upper catchment of the Wainunu River where we stayed in the upstream village of Navakasali; we were the first visitors that they had had this year! Happily, the sites surveyed were of high water quality with diverse and abundant fish life. There was also high abundance of freshwater prawns; these related well to the traditional methods of catching prawns – the method involves lining up rocks in a V shape along the shallow edge of the stream and placing rotten coconut in the inner part of the V. At night they come and collect prawns by the hundreds from the V.

Our second day from Navakasali was much more disappointing. We surveyed Wailoaloa river near a forestry station. We pulled seine nets and hand nets through the murky water and caught nothing. It was completely lifeless; no fish, no prawns, no mollusks, not even any insects or insect larvae. The local village guides said that inhabitants of the forestry station would often use chemical fishing techniques (i.e. herbicides) to fish here and that is why it was so devoid of life. This was a stark contrast to the previous site we had visited. Further upstream the story was the same – years before herbicides had been used to clear the area before planting mahogany, and chemical fishing had been used frequently in this stretch of river.

We left Navakasali for Daria village – the Wainunu river which passes Daria originates right from the peaks of Mt. Navotuvotu. The site was a protected area (tabu) that stretched for 200m. Despite riverside gardening of dalo (taro), the water in the upper Wainunu was of high quality, with moderate fish diversity. We recorded high abundance of the endemic fish Redigobious leveri, with very large size fishes.

The last village visited was Driti village, in the upper reaches of the Dama River. The forest in these upper catchments was intact and healthy explained the high abundance native fish present. This site was a haven for gobies with four species including the relatively rare endemic Stiphodon isabellae, and abundant prawns.

To conclude, these surveys found the state of upper catchments to be very variable between sites. Often gardening, livestock and forestry have already impacted on the fauna within these upper catchments. The Dawacumu and upper Dama rivers possess the most unique biodiversity and intact fish populations, and the forests are in the best condition of the sites sampled. There is a clear need to do some awareness-raising on the impact of chemical fishing and herbicide use for clearing undergrowth prior to planting of timber trees. Both of these practices are having a severe impact on waterways in Fiji and even in some very isolated and remote upper watershed areas. These results will be presented back to communities in the coming months, as part of a project to identify riparian buffer zones and areas of native forest for protection.

This project is kindly supported by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), a joint program of l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the World Bank.

Surveying the sea cucumbers of Kubulau

Recently I was part of a team of researchers that went to Kubulau to receive sea cucumber survey training, conducted by Mr Kalo of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community. The team included nine Fisheries officers from all four corners of Fiji (Western, Central, Northern and Eastern Divisions), as well as three staff from the NGO Partners in Community Development Fund.

Community-managed tabu areas and district MPAs in Kubulau

The team surveyed 57 stations with different methods: manta tows, transects on reef benthos and transects on soft bottom habitats. Each method was carried out both inside community-managed marine protected areas (tabu areas) and in open access areas.

The surveys covered the marine protected areas of Nakali, Namuri, Nasue, Cakau Vusoni and Dromoninuku – the new tabu area established this year, belonging to Navatu village. Open access areas surveyed were the reefs in between Namuri and Nasue marine protected areas, and in front of Waisa village down to Kiobo village, and from Waisa north to Nadivakarua Bay. Unfortunately we were not able to go to the famous Namena MPA due to bad weather.

 

Of the 24 commercially harvested species of sea cucumber present in Fiji, 18 were found in Kubulau during this survey. Previous surveys conducted by WCS Fiji have recorded 14 of these sea cucumber species, so we were happy to add four new species for Kubulau to the records.

Curryfish (Stichopus variegatus) in its shallow water habitat.

There were not many differences between marine protected areas versus open access areas – in some cases there were in fact larger numbers of sea cucumbers recorded outside the protected areas than inside (Holothurius atra, Lollyfish). For the high value species, we recorded only one White teatfish (Holothuria fuscogilva) and few Stonefish (Actinopyga lecanora) during the day. However there were more high value species recorded in Navatu when we visited the buyer. These high value species were caught during the night. Long-handled spears were used to catch bigger ones in the deep, as clearly explained by the local fishermen.

 

It has been mentioned that Crown of Thorns starfish populations might be increasing in Kubulau; we did observe Crown of Thorns during the survey but I personally think that the numbers were much lower than previously recorded by WCS Fiji’s surveys in neighbouring Wailevu district in 2011, where the damage has been more serious.

Actinopyga lecanora, or stonefish – a high value nocturnal species of sea cucumber

Raw data were presented back to the Turaga ni Yavusas (spokesmen for the tribes in the area) during the talanoa session, as requested by the Chairman of the Kubulau Resource Management Committee. These data were also made available to partner organisations as part of a national consultation process on Fiji’s National Sea Cucumber Fishery, together with some community recommendations about sea cucumber harvesting. The export value of sea cucumbers from Fiji is currently estimated at F$22 million annually (~US$12.4 million).

 

 

Integrated coastal management for Vatu-i-Ra Seascape

Integrated Coastal Management will bring benefits for the stunning reefs of Fiji's Vatu-i-Ra Seascape.

WCS Fiji is gearing up for an Integrated Coastal Management (ICM) project in Fiji’s Bua Province. This will complement a parallel project which is already up and running across the waves of Bligh Water. Ra Province, on the northern tip of Viti Levu, faces Bua from the opposite side of the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape. Ra has embraced the ridge-to-reef approach, and become a demonstration site for provincial-level ICM. As well as drawing up an ICM plan for Ra Province, a Fiji Government project will support a national ICM Committee to develop a national plan. The Ra model will also provide a framework on which other provinces can build their own ICM plans.

National, provincial and local stakeholders from Ra have been finding out about existing plans for development and natural resource management in Ra, to make decisions about how these plans can be brought together under the umbrella of ICM for Ra. This Fiji ICM project will run from 2011-2015 and is part of a wider suite of work to ensure future food security, under the Pacific Coral Triangle Initiative. Other countries involved are PNG, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Timor Leste. Funders include the Asian Development Bank (ADB) Global Environment Fund (GEF), USAID and AusAID.